AUSCHWITZ — The 31st annual March of the Living took place this year in a context that made the lessons of the Holocaust more urgent than ever.
Five days before the procession, in which survivors walked the three kilometers from the gates of Auschwitz to the memorial plaza in Birkenau, a gunman attacked a synagogue in California. And just a week ago, the New York Times ran an antisemitic cartoon whose themes evoked standard Nazi propaganda.
I spoke to the young leaders as they drafted the document. They see fighting antisemitism as part of a broader mission to improve the world: “We have the ethical obligation not only as Jews but as human beings to transform the world we see into a place where we want to be,” the declaration reads.
I once saw the world the same way. But with the benefit of experience, I know that what the young activists want is simply insufficient.
The protection of Jews can never be contingent on the protection of all people. It cannot await the transformation of the world. Indeed, such commitments are easily twisted against us: if the self-destructive Palestinians are suffering, “progressives” tell us, hostility to Israel must be tolerated, even if it comes with anti-Jewish hatred.
When the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting happened in Pittsburgh, six months ago, and again when the shooting happened in Poway last week, the first thought on my mind was that it is well past time for Jews to arm ourselves at prayer. Others, including Dennis Prager, had the same idea.
It is not unusual to see Israelis carrying pistols to services, in some towns there. It should be even more common in the U.S., with our broad Second Amendment.
But it is rare, and one of the reasons it is rare is that the liberal cities and suburbs where most American Jews live also tend to have the most restrictive gun laws in the country — none of which have helped to stop mass shootings.
Yes, in theory, we have Second Amendment rights. But state and local laws and ordinances restrict our ability to carry guns for self-defense, open or concealed. In much of California, permits are notoriously difficult to obtain.
The story of the synagogue shooting in Poway, California, is one of extraordinary heroism: the self-sacrifice of Lori Gilbert Kaye, the woman who took a bullet for her rabbi; the bravery of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who moved the children to safety while suffering from serious wounds; the courage of Almog Peretz, a visiting Israeli who helped save the children; the determination of his niece, eight-year-old Noya Dahan, wounded by shrapnel, who insisted on smiling for photos from her hospital bed; the quick thinking of Iraq War veteran Oscar Stewart, who chased the gunman; the bold actions of off-duty Border Patrol officer Jonathan Morales, who returned fire; and on and on.
But there is another aspect that has largely been neglected: namely, that the gun Morales used, which was given to him by a fellow congregant, may have been brought to the synagogue in defiance of state and local conceal carry restrictions. The person who brought it likely knew synagogues are at risk, and was determined not to be helpless.
It is beyond absurd that we have Second Amendment rights in the United States, and yet we have to violate the law to exercise those rights for a righteous purpose. It should not be illegal for Jews, or anyone else, to fight back when faced with the prospect of mass murder in a house of worship. But because it is made impossible, our churches and synagogues and mosques and temples — along with our schools — are made more vulnerable, and unnecessarily so.
If I were to write a declaration against antisemitism, I would declare that Jewish leaders should ensure that the next gunman who shows up at a synagogue will be shot. I would also declare that the world has a duty to back the State of Israel, which remains a refuge for persecuted Jews worldwide, against the terrorists and regimes who threaten it.
Auschwitz holds many universal lessons for humanity. But it also reminds us that the Jews cannot await humanity’s salvation.
As one of the speakers at Kaye’s funeral noted, the Passover Haggadah reminds us: “In every generation, there are those that rise up against us to destroy us.”
In the U.S., our Constitution allows us to fight back. But absurd laws prevent us from doing so. If we are serious about fighting antisemitism, we must push for their repeal.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.